Friday, April 11, 2008

Reason number 23,367 that NASCAR sucks.

As the latest in the ever-increasing number of reasons to turn your racing attentions elsewhere, this article serves as a paragon of inept, completely out-of-touch journalism. A stark contrast to this guy, who has been put on blast for actually relating an informed, accurate take on a topic, Blount's premise is fundamentally asinine and laughably wrong.

What Blount (and the complaining drivers, for that matter) doesn't seem to grasp is that NASCAR, unlike, say, F1, is a sport that prides itself upon uniformity, simplicity, and antiquity.

I mean, NASCAR, still uses pushrod motors! Pushrod! No one even produces cars with pushrod (no camshaft(s)) motors anymore! Is anyone really surprised that a sport that not only embraces, but champions outdated and inferior technology would not be receptive to change? Forget about those fancy fuel injectors, Poindexter, that shit's for pussies. And don't even start trying to push that non-oval-tracks-make-for-more-interesting-races bullshit; I ain't had enough Milwaukee's Best tonight to get roped into that conversation. Give me a chaw, boy, and a knife to whittle this switch!
Aaaaaaaand, we're back.... It should not be lost on anyone that all of the kvetching over the pushrod-using, carburated, breadbox of a vehicle is taking place over a vehicle once dubbed the 'Car of Tomorrow'. Aside from helping us understand the definition of the word 'irony', that little tidbit should serve as the codex of the NASCAR world: spitefully ignorant, intentionally backward, and complaining all the way.

Aerodynamics?! They're complaining about aerodynamics?! Sweet Enola Gay, son! I only finished 3 semesters as an aero before switching to physics, but here's a quick primer on some astute observations that I have made whilst pondering this issue:


are more aerodynamically sound than this:

For the Flying Spaghetti Monster's sake, even the rearview mirrors have been engineered and wind-tunnel tested on the F1 cars!
P.S - This is completely off-topic, but why is texting (on standard keypad phones, anyway) so popular? Does anyone realize that we have essentially reverted back to Morse code? What's up with that, people?


Adam said...

Just because NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" doesn't resemble an open-wheeled Formula race vehicle, doesn't make it less aerodynamic.

My understanding of race aerodynamics is pretty basic, but here we go:

- Vehicles are engineered and tweaked to be as aerodynamic as possible to fit the needs of the race.

For example, this article notes that an F1 car's cD (drag coefficient) is .75. That's quite high compared to something like a Prius at .26. That means that the F1 car is creating over 3 times the drag due to wind resistance as the hybrid. However, full wind resistance takes into account more than just cD but also frontal area, of which, the F1 car would have much less of. The high cD is still important though. Race vehicles traveling and especially taking corners at high speeds (200+ MPH in the case of NASCAR) require drag to create downforce, thus providing more grip to the surface and ability to take corners faster. Both formula cars and NASCAR race cars have engines that are powerful enough to provide the acceleration and power to reach those high speeds despite having so much drag from wind resistance.

Clearly, the NASCAR racers have much more frontal area than F1, though.

Well, you mentioned that "NASCAR, unlike, say, F1, is a sport that prides itself upon uniformity, simplicity, and antiquity." You failed to recognize that Formula One is just as simple and unified in its rules and regulations as NASCAR is! For example, look at some of the rules changes for just the 2008 season. Every vehicle must use a uniform ECU (Electronic Control Unit). Every vehicle must be rev-limited to 19,000RPM. There is only one tire (tyre for the British readers) manufacturer allowed.

Almost all professional racing is about standardization and strict vehicle regulations. Otherwise, it's about who has the deepest pockets (*cough*majorleaguebaseball*cough*), and what fun is there in that?

I'm no NASCAR fan, I probably watch 40 laps a season, and I really have very little knowledge about the complaints towards the new vehicle regulation. That said, it's not fair to call an entire racing league backwards because they comply to uniform standards. Looking at a NASCAR car might not appear to be as aerodynamic as an F1 car, and it probably isn't; however, it is a standard set by the governing body and is developed and tweaked to allow the car to take corners (all lefts, mind you) at what are truly ridiculous speeds. There is a science to it, I assure you that.

If NASCAR needed to appeal to us non-oval-loving race watchers, I'm sure they would, but with the audience they have, why change? It's redneck and white trash and it's damn good business. But just because the stereotypical fan doesn't understand or appreciate the science of drag coefficients, down force and the like, doesn't mean the teams and builders don't either.

Adam said...

Shit, I completely missed something else too.

There are stuff numerous pushrod motors on the market. For example, the entire LS-motor series from GM (97-currnet Corvette, Cadillac CTS-V, Pontiac G8 GT, GTO, etc.)

Also, pushrod, or overhead valve engines, do in fact have a camshaft. Check out the last animation on this page.

So the engine technology of NASCAR isn't exactly outdated and obsolete. However, you do mention that the motors have carbs instead of fuel injection. While carburetors are long gone in production vehicles, they are still quite popular in racing applications, including offroad racing (i.e. SCORE's Baja 500/1000). Fuel injection didn't faze out carbs because of a performance benefit, but because EFI systems run much cleaner (output much less pollution).

I don't want this to turn into a fuel injection vs. carburetor debate, but even in 2008, the good ole' carburetor has some advantages over EFI, especially in racing applications. Also, it's part of the rules, just like no more forced induction in Formula One.

Big C said...


Your comment is so awesome it's not even funny.

Good, good, points. I should be working right now, so I'll keep my response short.

1. As you alluded to, drag is not the only bloke at the party as far as aerodynamics is concerned. In fact, it's almost a throw-away stat for F1 for 2 reasons:

A: The effective (the term 'effective' is important) total frontal area of an F1 car is miniscule. Thus, frontal force (effective frontal area times Cd) contributes very little to the total Cd, which you correctly referenced as being much higher than a Prius. The much larger contributor to this drag coefficient is 'induced' drag, which stems from the fact that the F1 chassis is designed to produce a massive amount of downforce at very high speeds. Why so much downforce, you ask? Well,

B: The horsepower-to-weight ratios for F1 cars are stupendously higher than their NASCAR counterparts. The minimum weight for a NASCAR machine is on the order of 3400 lbs. Compare this to the 1100 lbs of the heaviest of Formula 1 cars. But the horsepower gap does not correspond. This data is a little harder to find, but the 750 or so max horsepower that a NASCAR motor produces does not really impress the Formula 1 guys who tune their normally aspirated motors to around 800 horsies (@ 18000+ rpm, of course). That much horsepower behind that little weight makes for big problems if you don't have a lot of downforce. So, total Cd is the price you pay for downforce, which is paid gladly by the F1 engineer. In fact, if you told a F1 engineer that the Cd for his chassis was high, he'd probably say: 'Good, that means were achieving a lot of downforce'. F1 cars have the power to fade whatever frontal force (again, a very small number due to small effective frontal area) there may be, but downforce is king because downforce = traction = ability to turn corners without slowing down. NASCAR cheats here. They race on mostly on oval tracks with few sharp turns that are often are highly banked (See: Talladega), so the need for appreciable downforce is not nearly as great. Compare Monaco or the Nurburgring to Talladega or Bristol, and tell me which track needs more traction/downforce.

2. NASCAR is no less draconian in the enforcement of their (sometimes silly) rules/regulations than F1, but to say that F1 doesn't celebrate diversity in form is way off. NASCAR cars are basically carbon copies (OK, 4 slight variants of a carbon copy) that have different stickers on them. Formula 1 vehicles are about as different from one another as they can possibly be. NASCAR uses a manufacturer's template (Ford, Chevy, etc.) and modifies from there, whereas F1 cars are designed from the ground up.

The Electronic Control Unit and tire/tyre thing is really irrelevant to this issue. There is really only one competent manufacturer of the ECUs (Microsoft), and it is something that really doesn't have a whole lot of room for improvement. Almost the same issue with the tires, but that's a long, sordid story. I'm actually a little upset about the tire thing myself, but totally understand why this had to be done. Saying that F1 is being pejoratively 'uniform' by using only one ECU is like bemoaning the fact that only one paint manufacturer is to be used; it doesn't really affect performance, so why bother? Also, it is important to mention that only one manufacturer of tires is permitted, not one type. The 'which tire to use?' game still applies in F1, just not quite as much as in the past, regrettably.

3. I should have said 'overhead camshafts'. I hate it when other people are right. +1

4. I'm really just poking fun with the whole carburetor/ EFI issue. EFIs are better because they use fuel more efficiently, which is important to a racing genre (F1) that doesn't make pit stops every 15 seconds. If carburetors were better for F1 cars, F1 engineers would use them. But, the real point that I'm driving at here is that NASCAR confines itself to a certain technology/design/philosophy, whereas F1 is more open-ended. The dictum of the Formula 1 engineer is to produce the fastest car imaginable; NASCARs is to produce the fastest stock car imaginable, which doesn't take much imagination, if you ask me.

I'm not saying that there isn't a science to tuning NASCAR cars. In fact, I think the job of the NASCAR engineer may actually be harder due to all of the constraints involved. But, as a racing fan, I want to see a display of the very best that the automotive world has to offer, and you will only find that in Formula 1.

So much for a short response.

Adam said...

Points taken, Big C.

I think it comes down to audience. The NASCAR crowd is not offended by oval tracks and doesn't want to see cars spread across the course. They want the cars to be nearly identical so that they're always bunched up and thus "more exciting to watch".

As a race fan, I appreciate the technology of modern day race cars, but part of me wants to see the skill of the driver too. I'm not saying there are standout drivers in F1, but watching race series that have diverse vehicles (F1, AMLS, etc.) doesn't demonstrate driver skill as well as series with uniform vehicles (NASCAR, SCCA Pro series). It's a matter of taste and I believe every race organization does a pretty good job catering to their market.

I go back to offroad for a second. Like F1, there are tight restrictions for every class, from Class 16 buggies up to Class 1 and Trophy/Trick Trucks. However, take TT as an example, you're free to work with a number of different frames, engine configurations (front/mid-engine vs. mid/rear), EFI or carbs, etc. While exciting to watch and evaluating the different teams and the vehicles, you can't say flatout that one driver has more ability than another because it could be they simply have a better "rig".

At this point, I guess I'm just arguing for the sake of arguing, but I'm just saying that I think you're coming from one racing philosophy and NASCAR is coming from another.

Big C said...


Two quick things that I left unattended to:

The 19,000 rpm thing is actually a very intriguing issue. The short version is that F1 is trying to reduce cost, and 19,000 rpm is a good place (and a high one, at that) to cut off motor technology in the interests of keeping deep-pocketed teams like Ferrari from contracting NASA to build their engines. The extra rpm would, obviously, produce slightly faster cars, but the cost/safety issues that an rpm war (between say, McLaren and Ferrari) would cause would be detrimental to the sport. Essentially, F1 is trying to reduce the Yankees/Red Sox effect, which has already begun to develop for the aforementioned teams.

F1 can't tell teams to spend less money, but they can keep engine rpms to reasonable values. This would be like if baseball told the Yankees and Red Sox that they could only use 600 pound genetically-altered gorilla pitchers as opposed to anything above that value. '600 pounds is pretty damned big, but that's it, OK?'

The same principle applies to the issue of aspiration: if you can already produce normally aspirated cars that produce upwards of 1000 HP, turbocharged or supercharged power plants would make the cars a bit on the ridiculous (and unsafe) side. Now, I don't know if Champ cars are still turbocharged, but this issue also has to do with the fact that F1 cars start the race from a dead stop as opposed to the rolling starts that those damn cheating bastard NASCAR cars do. As you already know, turbos are not so hot at lower rpms, so there is a performance aspect to this issue, as well. Stating that the motors are to be normally aspirated is not akin to saying that they need to be less powerful, like the restrictor-plated stock cars, but more like saying that it is verboten to use a nuclear reactor to power the car. This is not so much a performance restriction so much as it is just keeping things reasonable. We in F1 can thank Aryton Senna for this.

Diesel said...

(Head hits keyboard)

Big C said...


Wow, a lot of activity here today.

Ultimately, you are right. There is no accounting for taste. Some people think cucumbers taste better than pickles.

F1 hears you loud and clear on the issue of increasing the influence of drivers. The link that you posted (the one that pointed out the only 1 ECU rule) also reveals that F1 has also banned launch control and traction control modules on its cars for this season. As I mentioned in a previous post, this will really let the amazing talent of the Kimi Raikkonens and Lewis Hamiltons of the sport shine through.